Letter from Lope de Aguirre, rebel, to King Philip of Spain, 1561
The following translation is by Tom Holloway, History, Cornell
University, from the version published in A. Arellano Moreno (org.),
DOCUMENTOS PARA LA HISTORIA ECONOMICA DE VENEZUELA, (Caracas, Univ.
Letter from Lope de Aguirre, rebel, to King Philip of Spain, 1561
To King Philip, the Spaniard, son of Charles the Invincible:
From Lope de Aguirre, your lesser vassal, old Christian, of middling
parents but fortunately of noble blood, native of the Basque country of the
kingdom of Spain, citizen of the town of Onate.
In my youth I crossed the sea to the land of Peru to gain fame,
lance in hand, and to fulfill the obligation of all good men. In 24 years
I have done you great service in Peru, in conquests of the Indians, in
founding towns, and especially in battles and encounters fought in your
name, always to the best of my power and ability, without requesting of
your officials pay nor assistance, as can be seen in your royal records.
I firmly believe, most excellent King and lord, that to me and my
companions you have been nothing but cruel and ungrateful. I also believe
that those who write to you from this land deceive you, because of the
I demand of you, King, that you do justice and right by the good
vassals you have in this land, even though I and my companions (whose names
I will give later), unable to suffer further the cruelties of your judges,
viceroy, and governors, have resolved to obey you no longer.
Denaturalizing ourselves from our land, Spain, we make the most cruel war
against you that our power can sustain and endure. Believe, King and lord,
we have done this because we can no longer tolerate the great oppression
and unjust punishments of your ministers who, to make places for their sons
and dependents have usurped and robbed our fame, life, and honor. It is a
pity, King, the bad treatment you have given us.
I am lame in the right leg from the arquebus wounds I received in the
battle of Chuquinga, fighting with marshall Alonzo de Alvarado, answering
your call against Francisco Hernandez Giron, rebel from your service as I
and my companions are presently and will be until death, because we in this
land now know how cruel you are, how you break your faith and your word,
and thus we in this land give your promises less credence than to the books
of Martin Luther.
Your viceroy the marquis of Canete hanged Martin de Robles, a man
distinguished in your service; and the brave Tomas Vasquez, conquistador of
Peru; and the ill fated Alonso Dias, who worked more in the discoveries of
this kingdom than the scouts of Moses in the desert; and Piedrahita, a good
captain who fought many battles in your service. In Pucara they gave you
victory, and if they had not, Francisco Hernandez would now be the king of
Peru. Don't give much credence to the claims your judges make of services
performed, because it is a great myth, unless they call having spent
800,000 pesos of your royal treasury for their vices and evil deeds, a
service. Punish them as evildoers, as such they certainly are.
Look here, King of Spain! Do not be cruel and ungrateful to your
vassals, because while your father and you stayed in Spain without the
slightest bother, your vassals, at the price of their blood and fortune,
have given you all the kingdoms and holding you have in these parts.
Beware, King and lord, that you cannot take, under the title of legitimate
king, any benefit from this land where you risked nothing, without first
giving due gratification to those who have labored and sweated in it.
I am certain there are few kings in hell because there are few
kings, but if there were many none would go to heaven. Even in hell you
would be worse than Lucifer, because you all thirst after human blood. But
I don't marvel nor make much of you. For certain, I and my 200
arquebus-bearing maranones, conquistadores and noble, swear solemnly to God
that we will not leave a minister of yours alive, because I already know
how far your clemency reaches. Today we consider ourselves the luckiest
men alive, because we are in these parts of the Indies, with faith in God's
commandments full and uncorrupted as Christians, maintaining all that is
preached by the holy mother church of Rome, and we intend, though sinners
in life, to achieve martyrdom through God's commandments.
Upon leaving the Amazon river, called the Maranon, on an island
inhabited by Christians called Margarita, I saw some reports from Spain
regarding the great schism of Lutherans there, which caused us to be
frightened and surprised. In our company there was a German named
Monteverde, and I ordered him cut to pieces. Destiny rewards the prudent.
Believe this, excellent Prince: Wherever we are we ensure that all live
perfectly in the Christian faith.
The dissolution of the priests is so great in these parts that I
think it would be well that they feel your wrath and punishment, because
there is now none among them who sees himself as less than governor. Look
here, King, do not believe what they might tell you, because the tears that
they shed before your royal person is so that they can come here to
command. If you want to know the life they lead here, it is to deal in
merchandise, seek and acquire temporal goods, and sell the Sacraments of
the Church for a price. They are enemies of the poor, uncharitable,
ambitious, gluttonous, and arrogant, so that even the lowest of the priests
tries to command and govern all these lands. Correct this, King and lord,
because from these things and bad examples faith is not impressed upon the
natives. Furthermore, if this dissolution of the priests is not stopped,
there will be no shortage of scandal.
If I and my companions, by the correct position we have taken, are
determined to die, for this and for other things that have happened,
singular King, you are to blame, for not duly considering the labor of your
vassals and for not thinking of what you owe them. If you do not look out
for your vassals, and your judges do not take care of this, you certainly
will fail in government. Certainly there is no need to present witnesses,
but simply to point out that each of your judges has 4,000 pesos of salary,
8,000 pesos in expenses, and after three years in office each has 60,000
pesos saved, along with properties and possessions! Despite all this we
would be willing to serve them as we do, except that for our sins they want
us to drop to our knees wherever we are and worship them like
Nebuchadnezzar. This is insufferable. Just because I am an unfortunate
man made lame in your service (and my companions long and weary in the
same) I should not fail to advise you never to trust your conscience to
these learned persons. It is in your royal interest to watch out for them,
as they spend all their time planning the marriages of their children, and
care for nothing else. The common refrain among them is: "To the left and
to the right, I possess all in my sight."
The friars do not want to bury poor Indians, and they are lodged in
the best estates in Peru. The life they lead is bitter and burdensome, as
each one has as a penance a dozen young women in his kitchen, and as many
boys engaged in fishing, hunting partridges, and bringing fruit! They get
a share of everything. In Christian faith I swear, King and lord, that if
you do not remedy the evils of this land, divine punishment will come upon
you. I tell you this to let you know the truth, even though I and mine
neither expect nor want mercy from you.
Oh, how sad that a great Caesar and Emperor, your father, should
conquer with the power of Spain the great Germany, and should spend so much
money from these Indies discovered by us, and that you should not concern
yourself with our old age and weariness enough to provide for our daily
You know that we know in these parts, excellent King and lord, that
you conquered Germany with arms, and Germany has conquered Spain with
vices. We over here are happier with just corn and water, to be removed
from such a bad irony, Let those who suffer such an irony keep their
reward. Let wars spread where they may, and where men take them. Never,
no matter what adversity might come upon us, will we cease to be subject to
the teachings of the Holy Mother Church of Rome.
We cannot believe, excellent King and lord, that you would be so
cruel to such good vassals as you have in these parts. Your judges must be
acting this way without your consent. I say this, excellent King, because
two leagues from the city of Kings [Lima], there was discovered near the
sea a lake where there were some fish God permitted to exist there. Your
evil judges and officials, to profit from the fish for their pleasures and
vices, leased them in your name, giving us to understand, as though we were
fools, that this was done by your will. If this is so, master, let us
catch some of the fish, because we worked to discover it, and because the
King of Castile has no need for the 400 pesos they leased it for.
Illustrious King, we do not ask for grants in Cordoba or Valladolid, nor in
any part of Spain, which is your patrimony. Deign to feed the weary and
poor with the fruits and proceeds from this land. Remember, King and lord,
that God is the same for all, and the same justice, reward, heaven, and
In the year 1559 the marquis of Canete entrusted the expedition of
the river of the Amazons to Pedro de Ursua, Navarrese, or rather, a
Frenchman. He delayed the building of the boats until the year 1560 in the
province of the Motilones, in Peru. The Indians are called Motilones
because they wear their head shaved. These boats were made in the wet
country, and upon launching most of them came to pieces. We made rafts,
left the horses and supplies, and took off down the river at great risk to
our persons. We then encountered the most powerful rivers of Peru, and it
seemed to us to be a fresh water sea. We traveled 300 leagues from the
point of launching.
This bad governor was so perverse and vicious and miserable that we
could not tolerate it, and it was impossible to put up with his evil ways.
Since I have a stake in the matter, excellent King and lord, I will say
only that we killed him; certainly a very serious thing. We then raised a
young gentleman of Seville named Don Fernando de Guzman to be our king, and
we made an oath to him as such, as your royal person will see from the
signatures of all those who were in this, who remain in the island of
Margarita, in these Indies. They appointed me their field commander, and
because I did not consent to their insults and evil deeds they tried to
kill me, and I killed the new king, the captain of his guard, the
lieutenant-general, his majordomo, his chaplain, a woman in league against
me, a knight of Rhodes, an admiral, two ensigns, and six other of his
allies. It was my intention to carry this war through and die in it, for
the cruelties your ministers practice on us, and I again appointed captains
and a sergeant major. They tried to kill me, and I hung them all.
We went along our route down the Maranon river while all these
killings and bad events were taking place. It took us ten and a half
months to reach the mouth of the river, where it enters the sea. We
traveled a good hundred days, and traveled 1,500 leagues. It is a large
and fearsome river, with 80 leagues of fresh water at the mouth. It is
very deep, and for 800 leagues along its banks it is deserted, with no
towns, as your majesty will see from the true report we have made. Along
the route we took there are more than 6,000 islands. God only knows how we
escaped from such a fearsome lake! I advise you, King and lord, not to
attempt nor allow a fleet to be sent to this ill-fated river, because in
Christian faith I swear, King and lord, that if a hundred thousand men come
none will escape, because the stories are false and in this river there is
nothing but despair, especially for those newly arrive from Spain.
The captains and officers with me at present, and who promise to
die in this demand like pitiful men are: Juan Jeronimo de Espinola
Ginoves, admiral; Juan Gomez, Cristobal Garcia, captain of infantry, both
Andaluz; mounted captain Diego Tirado, Andaluz, from whom your judges, King
and lord, with great injury, took Indians he had earned with his lance;
captain of my guard Roberto de Sosaya and his ensign Nuflo Hernandez,
Valencian; Juan Lopez de Ayala, from Cuenca, our paymaster; general ensign
Blas Gutierrez, conquistador for 27 years; Juan Ponce, ensign, native of
Seville; Custodio Hernandez, ensign, Portuguese; Diego de Torres, ensign,
Navarre; sergeant Pedro Gutierrez Viso and Diego de Figueroa; Cristobal de
Rivas, conquistador, Pedro de Rojas, Andaluz; Juan de Saucedo, mounted
ensign; Bartolome Sanchez Paniagua, our lawyer; Diego Sanchez Bilbao,
supply; Garcia Navarro, inspector general, and many other hidalgos of this
league. We pray to God our Lord that your fortune ever be increased
against the Turk and the Frenchman, and all others who wish to make war on
you in those parts. In these, God grant that we might obtain with our arms
the reward by right due us, but which you have denied.
Son of your loyal Basque vassals, and I, rebel until death against
you for your ingratitude.
Lope de Aguirre, the Wanderer
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Date: Fri, 10 Jun 1994 14:37:20 -0400
To: Don Mabry
From: email@example.com (Tom Holloway)
Subject: Re: Aguirre
After several quick requests came back, I decided to post the
letter to the net. It should be coming across soon.
I hereby grant permission for further dissemination by whatever
means, electronic or paper, to any person or institution who might want to.
| | | Tom Holloway firstname.lastname@example.org
| | | Dept. of History
|____|____| 324 McGraw Hall
| | | Cornell University
| | | Ithaca, NY 14853-4601
You can read about this and other topics in colonial Latin American history by buying and reading
Colonial Latin America by Don Mabry.
Click on the book cover or the title to go to Llumina Press.